“Filmmaking doesn’t get more traditional or timeless than Chinese master Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home, a family drama of guilt, love and reconciliation set during the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution,” begins Maggie Lee in Variety.
“Heartbreaking in its depiction of ordinary lives affected by political upheaval, this ode to the fundamental values that survive even under such dire circumstances has an epic gravity that recalls another great historical romance, Doctor Zhivago.” I usually steer clear of the trades’ biz-talk, but this really is noteworthy: “While younger viewers may find Zhang’s classical style and grungy period backdrop too unfashionable to engage, the film’s rich melodramatic thrust has opened the floodgates for domestic audiences, grossing nearly $19.6 million in five days.”
“As Coming Home begins,” writes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com, “mother Wanyu (Gong Li) and her teenage daughter Dandan (Zhang Huiwen) a talented dancer, are confronted by the news that Yanshi (Chen Daoming), husband and father respectively, has escaped his reeducation camp and may be trying to find them. A dedicated child of the Party, Dandan opts to protect herself, and stands firm against a possible reunion with the fugitive father she doesn’t know. Zhang Yimou is a superb visual stylist. With great subtlety, his character’s faces are often seen in shadow, with light glinting off hair or features barely outlined, an apt choice in which each character loses much to the vagaries of politics and history.”
“Zhang was the leading light of China’s ‘fifth generation’ of filmmakers, revered for his pungent epics To Live and Raise the Red Lantern, and subsequently brought into the fold to direct the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics,” notes the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “His new film looks at the Cultural Revolution more in sorrow than anger, installing the spouses’ relationship as a metaphor for the country’s stumbling attempt to make peace with its past.”
Mike D’Angelo, dispatching to the Dissolve: “Part returning-POW saga and part amnesiac romance, Coming Home is an enjoyably cornball tearjerker, bolstered by solid performances from the two adults. (The girl playing their teenage daughter is more problematic.) Zhang doesn’t seem entirely invested, though; he forgoes his usual experiments in color and kineticism, and lets a syrupy score carry most of the emotion.”
“After a semi-detour into epic period drama (Curse of the Golden Flower), WWII drama (The Flowers of War) and pseudo-noir thriller (the Sino-Blood Simple and totally gonzo A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop) Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou slips back into his comfort zone,” writes Elizabeth Kerr for the Hollywood Reporter. “Zhang flirts with historical criticism and reflection on the impact of past social policies but pulls up short and settles for a plodding romance that is as lightweight as it is aimless.”
Writing for Screen Daily, Fionnuala Halligan points out that Coming Home is adapted from Yan Geling’s novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi and that Zou Jingzhi (Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, The Grandmaster) has written the screenplay. “Distancing, slightly color-leeched images from Zhao Xiading, who shot The Flowers Of War but also Hero and House of Flying Daggers (for which he received an Oscar nomination) lend the film a dated, period, look.”
At the Playlist, Jessica Kiang notes that Coming Home “plays pointedly Out of Competition in Cannes, and while tears will be jerked, heartstrings plucked and throats enlumpened, it has to go down as a disappointment in the director’s catalogue.”
Update, 5/24: Marc van de Klashorst, writing for the International Cinephile Society, finds that “one can’t help but feel that Zhang’s heyday is past, and the man that captured the world from the late ’80s to early aughts is in a lull in his career. This latest outing cannot be described as anything other than TV drama.”
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